painting/ – Historical culture in modern Irish film

I come from a nation that spends quite a large proportion of its time running from its visual history. Irish people often disregard the “Celtic” roots, the patterns and spirals and the ancient mythic tales of wars, magic and nature as fodder for American tourists. There is an unspoken desire to “move forward”, to reflect Ireland as the technological centre of western Europe, to emphasise how we have “caught up” and become part of the modern world. “We’re not pagan bog people anymore!” we shout emphatically at anyone who will listen, “We’ve built motorways and tall buildings so Intel and Facebook and Google would come!”

There is sometimes a lack of pride in the magic and runes of the ancient history and folklore in our country. Contemporary Irish art and design often analyse global themes and use global methods. Our current artists take pride in being well-travelled and educated in the artwork of Europe and America. Irish film is polished and masked with an international professionalism. Yet regardless of our motivation the island itself has trapped our ancient culture within, and the influence of the visual arts of our country is inescapable.

Culture is endlessly intertwined with place and history. While watching modern English cinema I often think of JMW Turner and his use of muted colours and sprawling compositions. Turner’s paintings are fastidious in the foreground, containing detail and narrative. These foregrounds are often overshadowed by bleak and near-colourless skies and background imagery that consume most of the space on the canvas.

Left: still from “This Is England” (courtesy of, click image for link)
Right: JMW Turner’s “Cologne The Arrival Of A Packed Boat Evening” (courtesy of, click “near-colourless skies” above image for link)

Taking the example of modern English film This Is England, Continue reading “painting/ – Historical culture in modern Irish film”